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How to Cultivate Self-Compassion and Improve Your Relationships

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Self-compassion, the tendency to be kind and understanding to yourself when confronted with personal failures and challenges, is a strong predictor of positive mental health (Muris, 2015; Hwang, 2016).

Studies indicate that high levels of self-compassion are linked to better life satisfaction and happiness and decreased self-criticism, depression, and anxiety (Neff, 2009).

Self-compassion not only improves your well-being but also the quality of your relationships. Indeed, research has found that self-compassion is positively linked to relationship quality and that individuals with higher levels exhibit more positive relationship behavior than those without it (Jacobson et al., 2018; Neff & Beretvas, 2013).

Self-compassion is a key ingredient of a healthy relationship. Self-compassionate partners experience better relationship health and are less likely to feel jealous. They feel worthy, happy, authentic, and capable of expressing opinions within a relationship (Tandler & Petersen, 2018; Neff & Beretvas, 2013).

In this article, you will learn about the three pillars of self-compassion and some powerful things you can do to cultivate it, according to Dr. Kristin Neff, a pioneer in the study of self-compassion.

The 3 pillars of self-compassion

There are three principal ways you can become more self-compassionate: developing self-kindness, recognizing feelings of common humanity, and practicing mindfulness. These are the three fundamental elements of self-compassion (Neff, 2011).

The first element, self-kindness, is the inclination to be caring and understanding with yourself.

When you are kind to yourself, you believe unconditionally in your worth, even when you fail or do not meet your expectations. You neither judge nor criticize your actions and behavior. In effect, you treat yourself as you’d treat your best friend, with compassion and acceptance.

Here’s a question you can ask yourself to evaluate whether you have enough self-kindness: when you make a mistake, do you tend to blame yourself and beat yourself up?

If so, learning to become kinder to yourself could be very beneficial for you.

Here are thirteen ways you can achieve this:

  • Think about personal traits that make you feel insecure, then write a letter to yourself from the point of view of an unconditionally loving imaginary friend
  • When facing a challenge or a painful event in life, write yourself some kind, loving, understanding words of comfort
  • Repeat a positive affirmation whenever you see yourself in the mirror (for an effective affirmation, make it personal, positive, visual, emotional, and in the present tense)
  • Write a forgiveness letter to yourself
  • Talk to yourself in a supportive and soft way
  • Speak kindly about yourself
  • Avoid self-deprecating humor or making jokes at your own expense
  • Take time to rest and recharge
  • Practice gratitude
  • Acknowledge your achievements and give yourself recognition
  • Take care of your mental and physical health
  • Stop trying to be perfect and treat your flaws and inadequacies in a gentle, understanding manner
  • Write down a list of positive qualities you have

The second pillar of self-compassion, recognizing feelings of common humanity, involves acknowledging that suffering, pain, disappointment, and feelings of personal inadequacy are things all people go through in life and are not exclusive to you.

As Dr. Neff has stated, not having things go as we desire leads to frustration that is frequently linked to an irrational but universal feeling of isolation, “as if I were the only person suffering or making mistakes,” which is obviously not true.

Here are two powerful exercises you can do to develop more feelings of common humanity:

  • Think about a person – a friend, family member, fictional character, or even a celebrity – and make a list of everything you have in common with her or him (e.g., traits, background, challenges you faced, desires, etc.)
  • Write about how a challenging or painful experience you had relates to a larger human experience. This might include recognizing that human suffering is part of life and that people are imperfect

Finally, the third element of self-compassion is mindfulness, which involves “awareness of, attention to, and acceptance of the present moment” (Barnard & Curry, 2013, p. 290).

Besides helping you cultivate more self-compassion, research has shown that mindfulness also improves your mental health by reducing stress and mitigating symptoms of subclinical depression and anxiety (Schreiner & Malcolm, 2012).

Here are ten ways to practice mindfulness:

  • Acknowledge the emotions you’re feeling and write them down
  • Really engage with the people around you (e.g., notice the color of their eyes, listen to the sound of their voice, observe their body language)
  • Meditate
  • Listen to your own thoughts for 15 minutes
  • Stop for a moment and notice something that you’re experiencing, using each of the five senses in turn
  • Practice progressive muscle relaxation
  • Observe an object for 10 minutes
  • Practice mindful listening
  • Do breathing exercises
  • Eat mindfully by enjoying each mouthful

About the Author: Saori Caterina is a 24-year-old master’s student with a strong passion for personal development & health. In her blog, she shares key takeaways from research papers, books and personal experiences to help others become the best version of themselves, cultivate meaningful relationships, and build a life they love.

Photo by Alexander Grey on Unsplash

The opinions and views expressed in any guest blog post do not necessarily reflect those of www.rtor.org or its sponsor, Laurel House, Inc. The author and www.rtor.org have no affiliations with any products or services mentioned in the article or linked to therein. Guest Authors may have affiliations to products mentioned or linked to in their author bios.

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